House Democrats pass $447B omnibus

House Democrats passed a massive $447 billion appropriations conference report Thursday to fund a host of different government agencies in fiscal 2010.

The conference report, approved on a 221-202 vote, didn't get any support from House Republicans, who raised concerns about spending increases.

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The omnibus was opposed by 28 Democrats, a group that was made up of mostly centrists. Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.) voted "present" on the conference report because of her opposition to a language in the report allowing Amtrak train passengers to check in handguns with their baggage, her office said.

In the Senate, Democrats and Republicans are tussling over when to vote on the conference report, which combines six of the seven remaining 2010 appropriations bills. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is pushing for a quick vote on the spending measure to avoid a weekend session, but GOP senators said they may force Reid to file cloture on the bill and hold a weekend session.

The spending bills in the package are the ones for: the Transportation and Housing and Urban Development departments; the Commerce and Justice departments and federal science funding; financial services and general government agencies; the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education departments; military construction and the Department of Veterans Affairs; and the State Department and foreign operations.

Congress has a Dec. 18 deadline to get the conference report signed into law to avoid a government shutdown. A continuing resolution, which allowed government to operate without approved funding after the Oct. 1 start of the fiscal year, expires on that date.

GOP members raised concerns that the bills will contribute to a 12 percent discretionary spending increase over last year.

"Sadly, the misplaced priorities of this Congress have resulted in too much spending, fewer jobs and bigger government that the public doesn’t want and can’t afford," said Rep. Jerry Lewis (Calif.), the top House GOP appropriator.

House Democrats said the package will provide relief as the economy tries to emerge from a recession. Included in the $447 billion in discretionary spending for daily government operations is $3.7 billion for state and local law enforcement grants, $2.5 billion for high-speed rail projects and $2.2 billion for new community health centers. Also attached to the bill are more than $600 billion for Medicare and Medicaid benefits for 2010.

"The country is struggling to overcome the longest and deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression," said House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.).

“The bill before us today is one of the key measures Congress will pass this year to help address those problems and provide relief for millions of hardworking Americans caught in a struggle for economic survival," Obey added in a statement.

Minutes after the House passed the conference report Thursday, the Senate voted 56-43 to suspend debate on its healthcare bill and take up the omnibus spending measure.

But Senate Republicans signaled opposition to a vote on the omnibus Thursday. GOP senators said they may draw out debate and foil Reid's plans to avoid another weekend session. The upper chamber has held two weekend sessions in the past month to work on the healthcare bill.

"We will certainly have discussion about a bill that has 4,072 earmarks totaling $3.7 billion in it," said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) Thursday.